Transitions are Hard

Transitions are hard, m’kay?

When you think about it, transitions can be hard for all of us. Getting myself to the zoom last night was hard…I had to stop reading my very engaging book (no, not Child Development…FICTION, y’all), peel myself off of my very cozy (cat-draped) couch, put on ‘real’ clothes (well, at least a real shirt), and then find my way to my desk.

I’m not going to lie: there was a certain amount of psyching up that went into it. 

And I LIKE doing these zooms! I genuinely enjoy them…just as your children genuinely enjoy, say, having dinner with you or reading books before bed. But it sometimes takes a lot of emotional energy and mental preparedness to stop doing one thing and do the things necessary to get on to the next thing. And when your resources are low…when you’re tired or hungry or hormonal (teething is hormonal!!) or ‘just’ emotional or down or or or …you sometimes have to dig deeper to make the move.

Or, ya know, have a tantrum.

The idea for this writing was triggered by a parent-shared RIE “win” from this week (no spoilers, you’ll read about it soon enough, I hope…which reminds me, please send me your wins!) and it reminded me of another RIE win from a year or so ago…A Mom called me, pretty much at her wits’ end because her daughter tantrumed through her diaper changes…Every. Blessed. Time. Mom gave choices. She narrated. She slowed down. She did all the things…and still, it was a battle! We talked for a while, and just when I felt like I was out-RIE’d by this wily toddler, I asked her Mom to walk me through it, step by step. She started with getting her daughter to the table, which was when she began protesting. “Wait,” I said, “what happens before that?” And she paused, and then exclaimed, THAT’S IT!!! She realized that she wasn’t giving enough lead time for her daughter before they even got to the table. Sure enough, she reported to me that as soon as she slowed down the pre-diaper transition, diaper changes were much smoother!

That was a pretty big ah-ha for me, too…so often when we talk about challenging behaviors, we focus on the event itself, but just as, if not more, important, are the moments, sometimes the hours, before the event, and it’s important to explore that part of the issue. And it’s part of the reason that I recommend eliciting some connection before you initiate a task or transition. Take a breath to take the emotional temperature of the room and get on the same page as your child. That might look like talking about what they are doing, or sitting down and doing a little of whatever they are doing together with them. That can help good feelings (on both sides) and smooth the steps from one activity to another. If you’re already engaged together with your child, you can start to slow yourself down a little…inviting a pause to naturally occur in the play, before announcing the transition. And slowing down, and then slowing down a little more, can elicit the cooperation you’re looking for.

Of course, there are times when you can’t slow down, or when you DO slow down, you still are faced with resistance, tears and tantrums. Alas, that’s life with a toddler human. Your child has a lot going on cognitively and emotionally…and may be physically worn out…and developmentally primed to challenge or resist. Their frontal lobes don’t start to develop until the age of 2…and continue developing until the mid-20’s. That means a lot of the time, their very emotional brains are what’s in charge, instead of logic, reason, and understanding. That means life may involve a lot of tears and big feelings…and that’s okay. Don’t try to fix or cajole…simply acknowledge and allow. Being heard lets the feelings out; being stifled keeps the feelings coming.

And yes, there are times when you will have to physically move your child along, while protesting and crying, but that, too, can be done with respect. Remembering that your objective is to keep your child safe and healthy, you make choices about what absolutely has to happen and what you can let go of in the moment. And then, as Janet Lansbury says, lovingly insist…you move through the task, while acknowledging how much they detest it…using calm and gentle, but firm and persistent hands to get the task done.

Think about how I follow a child whose mouth and hands need to be wiped after snack, but who has left the table. Sometimes I hand the cloth over to the parent, if the child really is simply protesting that it is ME that is doing the cleaning, but often I gently and carefully wipe hands and mouth…then wait a beat, and thank the child. Over time, the handwashing drama gets less and less, and the routine gets more and more solidified (of course, with individual variations for playfulness and regressions)…and that’s our goal, isn’t it? Routines and transitions are part and parcel to life. Transitions, big and small, are part of our everyday existence…some days they are easier than others, but they are always easiest when you can slow down and do them together.